VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Colorado Avalanche didn't want to have to wait around until their last game of the season to secure a playoff spot.
Down 2-0 and facing a long week of uncertainty if they lost, Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski scored 35 seconds apart in the second period as Colorado rallied to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 Tuesday night and clinch a postseason berth.
"We knew we had to get a point, we didn't want to sit all week not knowing what was going to happen and be forced to win the last game," veteran defenseman Adam Foote said. "It would have been a long week. It was a big win, the guys stayed strong when we were down 2-0 and it was huge."
John-Michael Liles started the rally with a power-play goal midway through the period, and Hejduk and Wolski completed it five minutes later. Peter Forsberg added an insurance goal -- his first goal since coming back to the NHL a month ago -- on a breakaway five minutes into the third as Colorado moved five points ahead of the ninth-place Canucks, who only have two games left to play.
"It's good to get the first goal," said Forsberg, who returned after missing the last game with a groin injury. "It's been a few games and it's good for the confidence to get a goal, especially now that we're going into the playoffs."
Jose Theodore made 28 saves to improve to 4-0-1 in his last five games as the Avalanche moved into a fifth-place tie with Dallas in the Western Conference. Colorado also closed within two points of Minnesota atop the Northwest Division, and their only game left in the regular season is against the Wild on Sunday.
"With four days before our last game it's kind of fun just to be able to practice and don't play with that extra pressure that the last game is going to change the season," said Theodore. "We battled hard for the last two months and it feels good to be able to be in for sure."
Willie Mitchell and Ryan Kesler scored for the Canucks, who have dropped five of six and again lost control of their own playoff fate by falling a point behind eighth-place Nashville, which beat St. Louis in overtime earlier.
Roberto Luongo finished with just 16 saves, unable to stop Colorado as the Avalanche took over the game in the second period.
"The first half we played a really good game and then they got one and in that 10 minutes we lost it for a little while," said Luongo.
Liles had an empty net with Luongo down in a scramble at the right side of the net as Joe Sakic came up with the loose puck and patiently passed it to the defenseman in the slot instead of firing into the crowd at the side of the goal.
"I wasn't looking at much other than bodies in front and I knew he was there," said Sakic, who had two assists. "That power play goal really helped just to get us going and the next two came pretty quick. You don't really expect that."
Hejduk was alone in the slot and cleanly beat Luongo, who appeared to be bracing for a collision with Paul Stastny. Stastny ran over him as the puck hit his glove and went into the net. Luongo and Wolski were both down when Sakic ripped a wrist shot wide from the slot, but Wolski was able to bat the caroming puck over the goalie's pad and glove while lying on his stomach at the side of the net.
"The second goal I felt I was interfered with even though the guy was on top of me after the puck went by, but as the shot was coming through I was starting to feel the contact so it got me off balance a little bit," Luongo said. "The third goal misses the net and comes out hot off the boards and right on his stick. It was a tough five minutes there but it was 3-2 and we were still in the game."
The Avalanche came in with five straight wins over the Canucks, including a last-second rally their last visit to Vancouver and a 6-3 thumping in Colorado last week. For a while it looked like that dominance might end.
Mitchell opened the scoring on a seeing-eye point shot Theodore never saw, and Kesler banged in his own rebound from the top of the crease with Forsberg in the penalty box for setting an offensive zone pick. But Forsberg set up Hejduk's tying goal -- his 33rd in 55 career games against the Canucks -- by drawing the defense as he gained the zone, freeing up Hejduk for a free shot from the high slot.
"It's definitely going to make the next four days a lot easier," Sakic said.
|Peter Forsberg (21) scores his first goal since returning to the NHL a month ago. (Getty Images)|
|Colorado (43-31-7) «||0||3||1||4|
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|08:24||Willie Mitchell (2), Slap Shot. Assist: Trevor Linden, Daniel Sedin|
|05:50||Power Play - Ryan Kesler (21), Tip-In. Assist: Henrik Sedin, Markus Naslund|
|09:13||Power Play - John-Michael Liles (6), Tip-In. Assist: Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk|
|13:57||Milan Hejduk (28), Slap Shot. Assist: Peter Forsberg|
|14:32||Wojtek Wolski (18), Slap Shot. Assist: Joe Sakic, Andrew Brunette|
|04:53||Peter Forsberg (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Andrew Brunette|
|01:22||Isbister, 2 min, Holding|
|15:58||Finger, 2 min, Hooking|
|04:04||Forsberg, 2 min, Interference|
|07:35||Salo, 2 min, Holding|
|14:52||Smyth, 2 min, Interference|
|19:56||Bieksa, 2 min, Tripping|
|02:12||Smyth, 2 min, Tripping|
|16:00||Hejduk, 2 min, Tripping|
|Shots On Goal|
|Power Play Conversions|
|Attendance - 18630|
|Referees - Kevin Pollock, Mick McGeough|
|Linesmen - Lonnie Cameron, Brian Mach|